Karachi  -  Caritas Pakistan’s Karachi chapter and the Catholic Women’s Organisation (CWO) jointly organised an awareness seminar with women and girls on forced conversion, child marriage and women’s rights.

The event took place in Kausar Naizi Colony, a Christian neighborhood of St Jude’s Parish of the Archdiocese of Karachi, on Nov 13. The objective of the seminar was to create awareness in the context of the Arzoo Raja case. Arzoo, a 13-year-old resident of Karachi’s Railway Colony, was abducted, married off to a 44-year-old Muslim man and converted to Islam. Her family is fighting a legal battle for her custody.

The case sent shockwaves throughout Pakistan, prompting religious minorities, particularly Christians, to hold nationwide protests. “Mothers play a very important role in family building to protect young girls from falling into the trap of wolves who prey on young girls and change their religion,” said Sister Catherine Qasir, a CWO coordinator.

“We must daily pray with all family members to spiritually strengthen and renew our faith in Jesus Christ and to fight against the forces of evil.” Tabassum Yousaf, a high court lawyer and counsel for Arzoo, shed light on the legal rights of minority girls as per the constitution of Pakistan. “Although abduction of an individual for the purpose of forced marriage is a criminal offense in Pakistan, it is one of, if not the most, widespread reported crimes against women in the country,” she said. Yousaf advised girls about how to keep themselves safe. She urged them to memorise the cell phone numbers of their parents and siblings. 

She called on mothers to spend time with their daughters, befriend them, patiently listen to their problems and address them with love, care and respect.

“We must reinforce our commitment to provide quality education and equal opportunities to our young girls and children and start this from our family,” she added.

Mansha Noor, executive secretary of Caritas Karachi, said the Arzoo Raja case provides a useful opportunity for mothers and girls to learn about the menace of forced conversion and child marriage and their negative impact on society.

“What we learned from this seminar we must share with others and start implementation from our family if we have to save and protect young girls and children,” Noor said. 

“We must remember the most beautiful quote of St Mother Teresa on the family that ‘the family that prays together stays together, and if they stay together they will love one another as God loved each one of them.’”